Welcome to a new kind of movement—one that reshapes how we think about ownership and cooperation.
by Jay Walljasper
A New Way of Thinking and Living
More than just a philosophical and political framework for understanding what’s gone wrong, the commons furnishes us a toolkit for fixing problems. Local activists eager to revitalize their community and protect open space are setting up land trusts—a form of community ownership distinct from both private property and government management. Savvy Web users use the cooperative properties of the Internet to challenge corporations who want to undermine this shared resource by fencing it off for private gain. Villagers and city dwellers around the world assert that water is a commons, which cannot be sold, depleted, or controlled by anyone.
Why Should We Care About the Commons Today?
Yes, it’s history. But also our best hope for the future. Both the idea and the reality of the commons have been declining since at least the eighteenth century. Why now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, should we struggle to revive them? The simple answer is that we have to. Despite the many benefits it brings us, the economic market operates like a runaway truck. It has no internal mechanism telling it when to stop—stop depleting the commons that sustain it. To put it another way, we’ve been living off a fat commons bank account for centuries, and now it’s running low. We must start making some deposits so we’ll have something for tomorrow. If our old Manifest Destiny was to carve up the commons, our new task is to rebuild it. We must do this to protect the planet, enhance our quality of life, reduce inequality, and leave a better world for our children.
We're sharing more things, more deeply, with more people. Why sharing is the answer to some of today's biggest questions.
Sharing is a big deal these days. Sharing is a growth industry, a new field of study and of practice; it presents a realm of career opportunities, a new way of life, and a concept around which we are restructuring our world. Sharing is the answer to some of today’s biggest questions: How will we meet the needs of the world’s enormous population? How do we reduce our impact on the planet and cope with the destruction already inflicted? How can we each be healthy, enjoy life, and create thriving communities?
—Janelle Orsi, “Four Degrees of Sharing”
1. Sharing as a Lifestyle. The ways to share in everyday life seem to be multiplying like rabbits, but maybe the Great Recession is just forcing all of us to pay more attention these days.
There’s carsharing, ridesharing, bikesharing, yardsharing, coworking, cohousing, tool libraries, all kinds of cooperatives—it goes on, trust us. And ways to share power, dialogue, and knowledge, such as workplace democracy, citizens' deliberative councils, unconferences, open space, and world café, are getting more attention these days, aided by innovative Web 2.0 tools.
2. Shareable Cities. A revolution is underway in our understanding of cities. The revolution couldn't come any sooner, considering that 2007 was the first year in human history that the majority of human beings lived in cities. Perhaps as a result, cities are becoming the focal point for our collective hopes and dreams, as well as all kinds of innovation needed to avert a worsening climate crisis.
In the past, we tended to see cities as dirty, unnatural, and isolating places; today, citizens and urban planners alike are starting to see their potential for generating widespread well-being at low financial and environmental cost. There's increasing appreciation for the benefits of public transit, urban agriculture, making room on the streets for pedestrians and bicyclists, and forcivic engagement. The very thing that defines a city—its population density—makes sharing easier, from cars to bikes to homes.
3. Social Enterprise; Cooperatives. Definitions vary, but in general social enterprises, whether nonprofit or for-profit, offer a product or service in order to advance a social or environmental mission with benefits for all.
4. The Nonprofit Sector. Nonprofits are an increasingly important way for people to share their wealth and labor. Nicola Goren, former acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said in a speech last year that we're in a midst of “a bona fide compassion boom.” The Obama administration is encouraging the trend toward mutual aid with the United We Serve program. With engagement and social enterpreneurship growing, Bill Drayton may be right: We may yet evolve into a world where everyone is a change-maker.
5. Microfinance is a powerful innovation that extends small loans and financial services to help the world’s poorest rise out of poverty, serving customers traditional banks ignore. The growth of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank, and its success in alleviating poverty in Bangladesh, helped trigger an almost unmanageable surge of money into the sector—currently about $25 billion, and growing fast. Grameen has low-interest loan programs for a variety of poor borrowers, including no-interest loans, and is owned by the rural poor it serves. Kiva, a U.S. nonprofit peer-to-peer microfinance sensation, facilitates around $5 million in no-interest loans a month to entrepreneurs in developing nations through its website. At one point, Kiva had to limit loans through their platform because the demand to give out loans was so high. Microfinance is yet another way the world is learning to share its wealth.
6. The Internet. It's easy to take it for granted, but its potential as a sharing platform has arguably just begun to unfold. The Internet itself would not be possible if people did not share labor, code, and infrastructure. No one owns it or runs it. It’s built and it operates on free and open source software and open standards. Data travels over networks and is routed through servers owned by private individuals and corporations who share transport and routing duties.
7. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). FOSS and the Internet have a symbiotic relationship. The Internet would not have been possible without FOSS. And the growth of FOSS relies on the Internet to power its peer production and distribution model.
Today, millions of people and organizations rely on FOSS for their daily work, as do a growing number of governments. It’s a pervasive part of life in the developed world—and because of its low cost, open source may become even more important to developing countries.
8. The Open Way. Inspired by the success of free and open source software, the values and practices of open source—making information and innovations publicly available—are being applied in a truly dizzying number of ways. In just the last few years, open or peer-to-peer sharing strategies have gained significant traction in science, business, culture, education, and government.
9. Social Media. Sharing is the currency of social media. And as the author of Socialnomics, Erik Qualman, says, social media is bigger than you think. In these powerful ways, social media has taken sharing mainstream.
10. Generation G. Now that a Shareable world has a serious foothold, all that's needed is a willing population to scale it up. There's a strong argument that Gen Y is the generation that can bring a shareable world to fruition. Gen Y grew up on the Internet and brings its values and practices, including sharing, into the real world. Last year TrendWatching.com called themGeneration G (for "generous") and said they are accelerating a cultural shift where “giving is already the new taking."
Gary Hamel believes that this massive generational force, which outnumbers baby boomers, promises to transform our world in the image of the Internet, a world where sharing and contributing to the common good are integral to the good life. William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of Millennials Rising, believes that Gen Y is a hero generation, coming of age in a time of crisis they're already helping to resolve, largely by applying the tools and mindset of sharing.
by Neal Gorenflo and Jeremy Adam Smith